After the Shutdown, Uncertainty Still Plagues Pentagon

Office of the Secretary of Defense by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler

AA Font size + Print

Congress averted disaster and reopened the government for business as usual. That’s the problem, say Pentagon leaders. By Kevin Baron

Now that the shutdown has ended, it’s business as usual again in Washington. At the Pentagon, that’s the problem. In a word: uncertainty.

“I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can’t continue to do this to our people, having them live under this cloud of uncertainty,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel said that the shutdown harmed everything for the Defense Department from training to the trust of key allies. But instead of waking up Thursday to a normal budget cycle, Pentagon planners instead are right back to where they started before the shutdown — under the budgetary thumb of sequester and continuing resolutions that temporarily fund the government weeks or months at a time.

Hagel said he is now worried about the morale of the military and its civilian workforce.

“Morale is a huge part of this,” Hagel said. “We won’t be able to recruit good people. Good people will leave the government. They’re not going to put up with this. Good people have many options.”

Bob Hale, Pentagon comptroller, was blunter as usual.

“When I read the [White House Office of Management and Budget] message about 2:30 this morning saying government was reopened, I felt like I could stop beating my head against a wall,” he said. “But I’ve got to say it would have felt a lot better never to have started beating my head against a wall.”

The shutdown cost the Pentagon, Hale said, $600 million in “lost productivity” just to start. Additionally, DoD accrued higher interest on outgoing payments not being paid. The department also took on huge costs from ordering thousands personnel to return home from travel duty — including those in schools and training programs – who will now head back out again.

The morning after the shutdown only ends one bad dream for Pentagon leaders. Now they go back to waking up to the same day all over again. “It’s a Groundhog Day approach to budgeting,” said Hale.

The Defense Department is still operating under a continuing resolution that funds the government at last fiscal year’s levels and therefore prevents any new starts of weapons programs, Hagel said. Hale said while no major programs are on hold, it does mean, for example, that because Congress appropriates the purchase of each new naval ship, the Pentagon is required by law to purchase the same numbers of ships this year as last year.

Separate from the continuing resolution, Hagel said that Congress still must address the sequester and the Budget Control Act to give the Pentagon a clue of its “long-term” budgeting. The Pentagon has gone right back to staring down at the Budget Control Act mandated cuts of $50 billion next year. If that budget requirement holds, Hale said, “we’re going to have to get smaller. I can’t tell you exactly how much. Yes, that will mean fewer civilians.”

Those civilians that get to stay in their jobs, however, may not want to. The military and its supporting civilian workforce — roughly 3 million people combined — have been stung by Washington politics.

“We’ve had three years of pay freezes,” added Hale. “We’ve had the sequester furloughs, now the shutdown furloughs. I mean, my own people are kind of looking at me and asking the question — most of them are seniors so they’ll probably stick around, but you wonder what the folks out in the field are saying. ‘I’m not so sure I want to work for this government.’”

Hagel, in his opening remarks, said the effect from the shutdown will linger.

“While all of us across the department welcome the fact that the shutdown is now behind us, I know that its impact will continue to be felt by all of our people. All of them, in different ways, had their lives affected and disrupted during this period of tremendous uncertainty. In particular, I am deeply aware of the harm that this shutdown inflicted on so many of our civilian personnel.”

“You can’t take an institution like this, as you all know because you’ve been around it a long time, and turn these things around in a month, in a week. This is the national security of America that we’re talking about, and so it does take thought and it does take planning.”

Outside of the United States, world leaders also have let Hagel know they’re not so sure about American resolve either, Hagel added. He said he has been to Asia three times this year and noted that Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest planned Asia trip was canceled because of the shut down.

“Our allies are asking questions: Can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and its promises? These are huge issues for all of us and they do impact our national security and our relationships and our standing in the world,” said Hagel.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

    Download
  • Military Readiness: Ensuring Readiness with Analytic Insight

    To determine military readiness, decision makers in defense organizations must develop an understanding of complex inter-relationships among readiness variables. For example, how will an anticipated change in a readiness input really impact readiness at the unit level and, equally important, how will it impact readiness outside of the unit? Learn how to form a more sophisticated and accurate understanding of readiness and make decisions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.